The Gaelic Family?

by Oct 4, 2015

As I write this, it’s World Communion Sunday. My church, the United Church of Canada, observes this ecumenical celebration which originated with a Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania, USA. How does this relate to Gaelic? Bear with me.

The Bible reading and sermon for today’s service was Matthew 12:46-50:

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (New International Version)

This passage reminded me strongly of a message (lay sermon) that I wrote and delivered for an ecumenical Gaelic service at the Loch Broom Log Cabin Church in Loch Broom, Pictou County, Nova Scotia in August 2012. This church is a replica of the first church ever built in Pictou County, in 1787. The first Presbyterian minister, Reverend James MacGregor, arrived in Pictou County in 1786, and preached in both Gaelic and English.


Log Cabin Church, Loch Broom, Pictou County, Nova Scotia

Log Cabin Church, Loch Broom, Pictou County, Nova Scotia


I was asked to talk on the subject of “family.” I refreshed my memory by looking through a Bible concordance (index) for references to family, and confirmed my recollections: family is not actually that important in the Christian Bible. I used Luke 14:26 rather than the verses from Matthew as the basis for the message, but Matthew still sums up the New Testament’s overall message about family.


Giving the lay sermon at the Loch Broom Log Cabin Church

Emily McEwan-Fujita and family giving the lay sermon at the Loch Broom Log Cabin Church


Why would Jesus feel the need to say this? Have you noticed how “family” is almost like a cult for some folks? They give first priority to family celebrations, above anything and everything else. Every holiday becomes about celebrating family traditions (and “tradition” usually means “the way my parents did it” or “the way my grandparents did it”). If you move into an area where families are very tightly-knit and self-involved, and you don’t have family of your own nearby, then on holidays you can feel like a second-class citizen, left out in the cold while everyone else worships at the altar of Family.

In this kind of environment, you can see how it might seem radical or even heretical to suggest that you consider your co-religionists to be equally deserving of your time, love, and resources as your family by blood and marriage.


Tea and home baking after the ecumenical Gaelic service

Tea and home baking after the ecumenical Gaelic service


My brief sermon explains how Gaelic speakers might want to rethink our concept of family as it relates to Gaelic. Although my message was directed toward attendees who were presumed to be Christian as well as Gaelic learners, the secular aspect of the message may be interesting for readers of other religious beliefs or no religious beliefs to consider (transcript is below the video):



You’ll probably be glad that my message is only about 5 minutes long, instead of the 2-hour Gaelic sermon that MacGregor reportedly preached for the first time in the original church — which was followed by another sermon in English.

The transcript below represents exactly how the message was delivered in the video, in alternating Gaelic passages and English translations by myself and my husband. This was done in the same style as the public telling of naidheachdan or stories in Cape Breton in recent decades, to accommodate audience members who are not fluent Gaelic speakers:

Teaghlach Dhè – The Family of God

Fàilte oirbh a h-uile duine. An diugh tha sinn a’ cruinneachadh còmhla gus adhradh a dhèanamh. Tha cuimhn’ a’m air a’ chiad sheirbheis Ghàidhlig a chuala mi, o chionn fichead bliadhna ’s a dhà aig Oilthigh Obair Dheathain ’san t-Seann Dùthaich. Cha robh eadar-theangachadh ann agus cha do thuig mi ach am facal “agus.” Agus, agus, agus! Mar sin, chum mi an suidheachan blàth agus choimhead mi air uinneagan brèagha na h-eaglais’ bhig. Tha mi ’n dòchas gum faigh sibh barrachd ás an teachdaireachd agam fhìn! An diugh, bruidhnidh mi beagan air “teaghlach” agus gu dè tha sin a’ ciallachadh dhuinn mar Chrìosdaidhean a tha dèidheil air a’Ghàidhlig.

Welcome everyone. Today we come together to worship in Gaelic. Emily remembers the first Gaelic church service she attended, 22 years ago at Aberdeen University in Scotland. There was no English translation, and she only understood the word “agus,” which of course means “and.” So, she said, she kept the pew warm and looked at the beautiful stained glass windows of the chapel. We hope that you will get more out of our message! Today, we will talk a little bit about the idea of “family,” and what it means to us as Christians who also love Gaelic.

Tha sinn uile a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil fios againn gu dè a th’ann an “teaghlach.” Na pàrantan, bràithrean agus peathraichean againn, a’ bhean no an duine againn, ar clann agus co-oghaichean, agus a leithid.

We all think we know what “family” means. Our parents, brothers and sisters, husband or wife, children and grandchildren, and so on.

Ach nuair a dh’èisdeas sinn ris na thuirt Iosa fhèin air teaghlach, ann an Lucas, ’se rud gu math iongantach a th’ ann. A’ toirt fuath dha do theaghlach? Dìreach? B’ fheàrr leinn a’ chuid sin a leigeil seachad.

But when we listen to what Jesus himself said about family, in the reading from Luke, it is surprising. Hate your family? Really? We would prefer to ignore that part.

Ach ma choimheadas sinn gu mionaideach, chì sinn gu bheil am Bìoball a’ toirt dhuinn teaghlach eile cuideachd – teaghlach Dhè. A rèir luchd-mìneachaidh a’ Bhìobaill, tha na faclan seo aig Ìosa air a’ mì-thuigsinn gu tric. Far a bheil “hate” ’sa Bheurla agus “fuath” ’sa Ghàidhlig, a’ ciallachadh “gràin” b’e “ō-misé” (no “miséō” [μισέ]) a bha ’sa Ghreugais. Agus a rèir choltais, bha sin a’ ciallachadh “Gràdhaichibh aon rud nas lugha na rud eile.” Agus mar sin, bha Ìosa ag iarraidh oirnn a bhith ga ghràdhachadh na bu mhotha na na beathan agus na teaghlaichean againn fhìn.

But if we look closely at the Bible, we see that the Bible also offers us another family – the family of God. According to commentators, this passage in Luke is often misunderstood. Where it says “hate” in English and “fuathaich” in Gaelic, the original Greek was “ō-misé” [or “miséō” (μισέω)]. This meant not “hate” but “love one thing less than another.” So Jesus was asking us to love him and our Godly family more than our own lives and families.

Leis a sin, dè tha “teaghlach” a’ ciallachadh dhuinn mar Chrìosdaidhean? Chan e càirdeas na fala no càirdeas laghail a th’ann gu riatanach. Tha an litir aig Pòl do na h-Ephesianaich ag ràdh gu bheil sinn uile, mar Chrìosdaidhean, ’nar teaghlach-Dhè, ’nar aon bhaile.

With that, what does family mean to us as Christians? It doesn’t necessarily mean being related by blood or marriage. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says that as Christians, we are all God’s family, members or citizens with all of God’s holy people. In Gaelic, aon bhaile – one home, one farm, one village, one town – there are multiple translations for this term.

Agus bha seann bheachdan air an teaghlach, an t-seann dòigh a bh’aig na Gàidheil, mar seo cuideachd. O chionn fhada, rinn Gàidheil na h-Eireann agus na h-Albann “comh-dhaltas.” Agus bha cinnidhean na Gàidhealtachd mar seo cuideachd. Cha b’e fuil no pòsadh a bha a’ sònrachadh cinnidh, ach rudan eile: an t-aon àite-còmhnaidh, ceanglaichean eaconomach, seirbheis saighdearachd, agus dìlseachd.

Tha gnàthas-cainnte Gàidhlig ann an Dwelly: “Comh-dhaltas gu ceud is càirdeas gu fichead.”

Agus is cinnteach gu robh na Gàidheil a thàinig an seo a’ tighinn beò le beachd air cinneadh na b’ fharsaing na tha cumanta ann an Canada an diugh, agus chuidich sin iad ris an cànan agus an cultur aca a chumail beò gus an là an diugh. ’San aon dòigh, thug sin cuideachadh do Chrìosdaidhean ann a’ naidheachd Ìosa Chrìosd a chumail beò.

Old Gaelic conceptions of kinship were also like this. They included fostership in ancient Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, and membership in the Scottish clans, which was not about blood, but about shared residence, economic ties, military service, and loyalty.

There is a Gaelic saying in Dwelly: “Fostership to a hundred degrees, blood-relation to twenty.” About this expression, Dwelly comments: “The closeness of relationship established by fosterage among the Celts is almost without parallel and this is one of the strongest expressions of Highland opinion on this point.”

It is certain that the Gaels who emigrated here were living with a much broader concept of kinship than what is common in Canada today. And that helped them to keep their language and culture alive, just as it has helped Christians to keep the story of Jesus alive.


Plaque commemorating the original Log Cabin Church built on land donated by James McCabe of Belfast, Northern Ireland

Plaque commemorating the original Log Cabin Church built on land donated by James McCabe of Belfast, Northern Ireland


Agus mar sin, tha sinne ’nar aon bhaile. Bhris Ìosa Crìosd balla an eadar-dhealachaidh agus na gràine, agus shearmonaich e sìth dhuinn. Dh’iarr e oirnn an t-slighe aige a leantainn, seach iarrtas an teaghlaich.

So we are aon bhaile. Jesus “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” and he preached peace to us. Jesus asked us to prefer him, over the demands of family.

Agus tha e comasach dhuinn am bunachas seo a leantainn mar a chleachdas sinn a’ Ghàidhlig cuideachd. Tha gaol a’ chànain a’ toirt Chrìosdaidhean dhen a h-uile seòrsa le chéile. Tha gaol a’ chànain a’ toirt muinntir ás gach àite le chéile—á Siorramachd Phictou, Siorramachd Antaiginis, Ceap Breatainn, Halafacs, Gleann Annapolis, ás an t-Seann Dùthaich, is iomadh àite eile san t-saoghal.

We can follow this principle as we use Gaelic as well. A love of the language and culture unites Christians of every kind. A love of the language and culture unites people from every place: Pictou County, Antigonish County, Cape Breton, Halifax, the Annapolis Valley, the Old Country and many other places.

Chan eil sinn nar coigrich no nar coimhich do’ chèile. Tha sinn nar h-aon bhaile, agus nar bhuill ann a’ teaghlach Dhè – agus ’nar bhuill ann a’ teaghlach na Gàidhlig. Agus mar sin, feumaidh sinn slighe Ìosa a’ leantainn an toiseach, seach air ballachan – ballachan fala, ballachan àite – a thogail eadarainn.

We are not strangers or foreigners to one another. We are aon bhaile, members of the family of God, and members of the family of Gaelic. And therefore, we must place higher priority on following the way of Jesus, than on building walls between us of blood or place.


Log, tree fungus, and tartan chandelier in the Loch Broom Log Cabin Church

Log, tree fungus, and tartan chandelier in the Loch Broom Log Cabin Church

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